Chapter One: Cultural Studies with Dr. Pepper
A few weeks ago, my six-year-old asked what Dr. Pepper tastes like. His favorite YouTuber likes Dr. Pepper, and Ranger was pretty sure it must be fantastic. Since we don’t like soda very much, I realized that my kids probably hadn’t ever tasted Dr. Pepper. Or Pepsi. Or Mountain Dew. Can you even get Mellow Yellow anymore?
Obviously, this called for a full-on homeschool event. American cultural studies! We were going to taste sodas.
Our family does “tastings.” We gather at the table and try varieties of cheese, sausage, apples, etc. Especially apples. A local farmer’s market harvests seven or eight varieties each autumn, so I make a point to buy one of each type. At home, I print out a sheet with the apple names on it (Arkansas Black, Pink Lady, Crispin, Empire… I love reading over the list). As we taste each one, we rate how we like its flavor, and which ones we like best. The same apples always win, but we’re always up for trying them again the next year.
So when I realized how many varieties of soda were out there, it was an invitation to a tasting.
I bought seven different types of soda: Pepsi, Mt. Dew, grape Crush, classic Coca-cola, Vanilla Coca-cola, Mug root beer, Dr. Pepper, and Cherry Dr. Pepper. That’s only a fraction of what’s available, of course, but I didn’t think we were really going to get through more than that. Just to make it an experience of epic junk-food proportions, I also got Funyuns and Cheetohs.
When we gathered around the table, I grabbed an old calendar page and a sharpie and wrote out a rating chart.
Okay! What’s first?” I asked.
“Dr. Pepper!” Ranger said.
Darren opened the Dr. Pepper and poured everybody a drink. Nobody liked it much, except Ranger. But he liked it only because his favorite YouTuber does.
We went through the rest of the soda one by one, cleansing our palates in between with the Funyuns and Cheetohs. You know what? Soda tastes kind of weird unless you’re really used to it.
Root beer got the most votes, which was no surprise; that’s the only type of soda we ever buy. (Ranger insisted that root beer was not his favorite. His favorite was…well, you know.)
Afterward, the kids grabbed the bottles and ran outside. They shook the leftover soda until it spewed all over the front yard. I’m pretty sure that’s where the real memories were made.
Our American cultural studies was, I think, a real success.
Chapter Two: A School Walk
On a warm spring morning, six-year-old Ranger sat down to do his math workbook. The page asked him to color shapes a certain color. He announced, “An octagon has seven sides!”
“Eight,” I said. “What sign do we see every day that has eight sides?”
He looked blank.
“A stop sign.”
“Oh. I thought that had six sides.”
“Tell you what. Finish your page, and we’ll go look at a stop sign.”
He was all for that; Ranger is our outside kid. He quickly finished his work, and we headed out the door, both barefoot.
We walked together down our quiet neighborhood street. The morning was clear and warm, with the early blooms fading and new leaves showing through. I picked up a willow branch on the way to the end of the street.
We reached the stop sign, I used the willow branch to count the sides. Eight.
Ranger noticed that the sign also has four letters—four plus four is eight! I pointed to the letters and showed him that STOP also spells POTS, TOPS, and SPOT.
On the way back to the house, I asked him if he knew the colors of the rainbow. He did—in order, no less. “Let’s see if we can find things that are those colors,” I suggested. He found a red truck, an orange basketball, a yellow forsythia bush, and too much green to name. The sky was blue, and we ended with the deep purple flowers growing around our mailbox.
As we walked up the yard to the house, I said, “That was a fun school walk.”
“It sure was.” Ranger put his arm around my waist. “We should do this again sometime.”
He’s right. We definitely should.